Umphrey’s McGee
Keller Williams

December 30-31, 2005
Aragon Ballroom
Chicago, IL

My immune system certainly picked a good time to quit working right; suddenly I’m blasted with a nice little Christmas present of a chest cold that still hasn’t let up as of the time I write this. Yay!

That didn’t stop me from enjoying myself (at least, as much as my body would allow) when it came time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Umphrey’s McGee and Keller Williams. After last year’s amazing New Year’s shows at the Riveria (eventually showing up as their DVD, Wrapped Around Chicago), I knew that I would not hesitate in buying tickets once they announced the New Year’s 2005 shows on Labor Day Weekend.

The fans were treated to an unbelievably great weekend of music featuring sets that started on time, $6 beers (could have been worse), a very techno-flavored Umphrey’s, an always enjoyable Keller Williams, unbelievably great sound for the Aragon, and a fun end to hopefully a great year for you and yours.

December 30

My wife and I made it to the show with the hope of seeing Keller and I’m glad we got there when we did. Keller’s set started at exactly 6:30 p.m.–amazing. We grabbed a good spot by one of the sideline poles so you can lean and chill if you need to. I wasn’t going to go into full dancin’ mode with this cold (again, unfortunate but I didn’t want to further worsen the sickness), so we relaxed during Keller’s set.

His own People Watching is a fun tune that led the set, and his take on Sublime’s What I Got is always worth seeing. There didn’t seem to be that much variety in the set from the last couple times I’ve seen him, but it’s not every time that he gets to play in front of the all-ages crowd, either. Plus, that’s usually just the luck of the draw on seeing a two-night run–you’re bound to see your favorites and a few that you might have skipped if already seen live.

The real treat for me was his closing Tom Petty medley–Last Dance with Mary Jane > Breakdown > Last Dance. It really seemed to launch the crowd into full energy and excitement for the upcoming Umphrey’s set, as it was clearly a hometown UM crowd from the get-go.

His energy is certainly contagious, I’ll always give him that. He never ceases to make me smile when I see him live, as he just exudes that fun. fan-energy that he’s built up from years of being a music fan himself. I’ll always tell someone to go see a Keller Williams show. Always.

By the time Umphrey’s McGee made it to the stage, the crowd was starting to get rowdy. The all-ages environment might be the reason for that (and I don’t want to over-generalize), but we decided to hang back once we determined that the front of the crowd was not a good idea.

Umphrey’s McGee came out strong, confident and played some really, really incredible music during this New Year’s Eve Eve show. Wife Soup opened the first set, but the real treat for me was the Dump City > Haji sandwich which was just performed beautifully. The second set was no exception, especially considering the DBK > Atmosfarag > DBK midset.

Also, they brought out Keller and did his tune Play This (or Youth of the Nation–I’ve seen it labeled differently) with full UM backup, and it’s really amazing just how overpowering UM can be. Keller sang, but you couldn’t really get a whole lot of his acoustic guitar in the mix my plugged-up ears were hearing (it’s better on the recordings, though).

For the encore, their (both UM and Keller were on stage) take on the Bowie/Lennon classic Fame was just what the crowd needed as a send off with the hopes that tomorrow night would be that much more powerful and exciting. It would have been hard to out-do the show on the 30th musically, but I was definitely expecting more of a spectacle on the 31st.

December 31

I still wasn’t feeling too good and I knew I had a long night of music ahead of me, so we made the conscious decision to skip the second night of Keller Williams. Again, this would have been the fifth time seeing him during 2005 and I wasn’t sure that I needed another Keller set. I’m sure it was great and all, but I decidedly skipped it.

I came in right during his set-closing Celebrate Your Youth which always bodes well and grabbed a spot on a different pole than the night before. Umphrey’s McGee would be on stage any minute, and in the meantime, I was enjoying their stage setup, adorned with smoke, tiki-torches, and overall it looked like a mock-Skull Island set straight out of King Kong.

Once UM hit the stage (wearing Indiana Jones-like outfits to match their stage setup), they hit the music immediately for a nice set with some surprises thrown in for sure, including an Ali Baba’s Tahini cover (Got Your Milk (Right Here)) and another Keller-fronted Keller tune (Turn in Difference). For me, the highlight of the set was the Hunt Bird Bath closer which only got us more psyched up for the rest of the night full of music.

The second set started off with Bridgeless, but this one was special. Rounding out the UM lineup was a horn section (Michael Mavridoglou on trumpet, Chris Near on saxaphone, Brent Sanders on trombone) that added a lot of real depth to the song, so much so that it’s now referred to as “the Horny Bridgeless” on the message boards.

The guys in the horn section stepped on and off stage throughout the night so it’s hard to keep track after that. I can say this, though. It was (by far) the best sounding horn arrangements that Umphrey’s ever played with–they added a lot more to the background instead of just punching their way into the mix, and it sounded really good that night.

The Ocean Billy > Glory > Ocean Billy sandwich was nice, 40’s Theme is great as always, and then the set gets a little crazier after that, all capped off with a Kris Myers lead Just a Gigolo with zoot suit and everything. I wanted to hear the loungy Nopener that they’ve done before, but we only got one Myers tune before the band shuffled offstage again.

It was nearly 11:45 p.m. when the band came out again and started warming up into Nothing Too Fancy. We got the full buildup and countdown and then BOOM! Happy New Year! Balloon drop and confetti explosion follows, and then we’re spent…

The rest of the set was fun, including a great Partyin’ Peeps to close the set and that was really all I had in me for the show. I was exhausted, and I can say that deciding to leave at that point wasn’t one of my greatest moments. I missed one unbelievably crazy encore with nearly a half hour more of music, including covers on Pink Floyd’s Breathe and Great Gig in the Sky and Ray Charles’ Night Time is the Right Time (that Cosby Show tune…).

In hindsight, there would have no way I could have made it through another half hour of music and I’m glad I went home when I did. However, I’m still sick, so it clearly didn’t do me too much good. OH WELL…there’s always next year.

Overall, the NYE show was amazing and well-worth choosing that as the spot I wanted to ring in the new year. Keller Williams will continue to amaze the audiences that have never seen him before, but I have to admit that the delivery will begin to get repetitive (as the looping is by default) in song rotation and “improvised” delivery of covers unless he starts mixing it up a little bit more. Again, I’m probably just saying that because I’ve seen him tons of times this year already, but you know what I mean…

Umphrey’s McGee will continue to amaze me as they have for the past year or so; I’ve seen them fifteen times and I would definitely continue to come back for more. Their musical schizophrenia lets the audience live (or dance or jaw-drop or chill or rock or scream) through so many different styles of music that it could be compared to an iPod on shuffle. And yes, the iPod contains many different styles of music…

Their precision and skill is always at the forefront of the music they play, even if they’re covering one of Pink Floyd’s most ethereal composition by throwing a solid, dub-style snare-snap in the background to keep the crowd moving (as opposed to sleeping). That’ll always speak to me as the reason UM’s live shows are one to keep coming back to–they hardly ever make a mistake (I’ve caught one or two) when blazing forward into high-energy rock music that tends to cause equal parts head-banging and noodle-dancing. I’m sorry, but it’s impressive.

As far as the show is concerned, with all that money spent on a backdrop straight from Skull Island, you’d have thought they would have taken advantage of it. Where was my giant gorilla? (note: two friends of theirs made appearances onstage as gorillas during one of the sets (2nd?)). Where was the George of the Jungle theme music tease? I just thought they would have made more use of the set as part of the overall spectacle, and they just didn’t. Bummer, I guess.

Unless someone that I would love to see more decides to take up shop in Chicago for NYE (and at first thought, I can’t think of who I would choose over UM), I’ll see you there next year.

Here’s the setlist love straight from UM, and click on the date for the link to the torrent.

12.30.05 – Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois
Set One: Wife Soup, Dump City > “Jimmy Stewart” > Hajimemas***e > Dump City, Passing > #Utopian Fir > jam^ > Women Wine and Song^^ > jam^
Set Two: Plunger > “Jimmy Stewart”^ > Play This*, Der Bluten Kat > Atmosfarag > Der Bluten Kat, Walletsworth, Great American > Andy’s Last Beer
Encore: Fame**

Keller Williams opened
# with In a Silent Way tease
^ with Keller Williams on guitar
^^ with Keller williams on guitar and vocals; with Scarlet Begonias tease
* first time played, Keller Williams; with Keller on guitar and vocals
** first time played in full, David Bowie and John Lennon

12.31.05 – Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois
Set One: All In Time, Kabump > The Bottom Half, Got Your Milk (Right Here), Professor Wormbog, Turn In Difference*, Hurt Bird Bath
Set Two: Bridgeless^, Ocean Billy > Glory > Ocean Billy, 40’s Theme, Anchor Drops, Last Man Swerving^ > medley^^, jam%, Just A Gigolo%%
Set Three: Nothing Too Fancy** > Auld Lang Syne**, Resolution$ > Miss Tinkle’s Overture^ > Higgins^ > Miss Tinkle’s Overture^, I Want A New Drug^$$, Memphis Underground#, Partyin’ Peeps**
Encore: Breathe& > Breathe Reprise& > Great Gig In the Sky&&, Believe the Lie, Night Time is the Right Time##

Keller Williams opened
* first time played, Keller Williams; with Keller on guitar and vocals
^ with Michael Mavridoglou on trumpet, Chris Near on saxaphone, and Brent Sanders on trombone
^^ with Paris Delane on vocals along with the horn section; comprised of: P. Funk, One Nation Under a Groove, Kiss, Amazing Grace, I Need You Tonight, and Stairway to Heaven
% with Jake replacing Kris on drums
%% first time played, Brammer/Caesar/Casucci; with Kris on vocals and Jake on drums
** with Keller on guitar and the horn section
$ with Norwegian Wood tease; with the horn section
$$ first time played in full, Huey Lewis and the News
# with Chris Near on flute
& first time played, Pink Floyd; Breathe was a “dub” version
&& first time played, Pink Floyd; with Michelle Hallman on vocals
## first time played, Ray Charles; everyone on stage
last I Want A New Drug 04.14.00